One reason for taking my MBA in Singapore was that most of my fellow-students would be coming from India, China, and south-east Asia; I would be learning from them all kinds of invaluable cultural experiences and insights. That also happened in the classroom: as well as the normal MBA fodder taught in every business school everywhere, Nanyang Business School offered a course in Sun Zi’s Art of Strategy, taught brilliantly by Professor Wee Chow Hou, an authority on the application of Sun Zi’s insights to business strategy and management.
A friend who’s known me for nearly 10 years recently observed: “Everyone’s life turns in circles – it’s just that yours seems to spin faster than other peoples'”. There’s a lot of truth in that.
One of my professional areas of interest is strategic analysis, which I’ve taught to undergraduates and postgraduates in universities in China and the UK.
The tools of strategic management can also be used by individuals, to help plan career directions, and to make significant life choices in an informed way. This is becoming essential; powerful forces of change are overtaking us, and we should all be planning and preparing.
The main issue is that the globalisation of the world economy, a process that’s been underway for almost thirty years now, has reached its limits. Indeed, it’s going into reverse, which is likely to have unpredictable and unpalatable consequences for its biggest beneficiaries: those of us who live in the West.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on the move. The lease on my Soviet-era flat in Primorskaya ran out, and I’ve moved into a new studio apartment right in the centre of historic St. Petersburg. The availability didn’t quite match, so I had to spend a couple of weeks living out of my suitcases in a temporary apartment in Dekabrovista Ulitsa, just around the corner from St. Isaac’s Cathedral. This is one reason why I haven’t posted any updates for a while – but not the only one! I’ve been setting up some online learning systems, and listening to what my students would like the world to know about their country…
Last week was back to work after my holidays, never a pleasant experience.
What with one thing and another, I haven’t had time to do much exploring. The weather has turned very warm, and most business buildings have now turned their air-conditioning on.
Stepping out from a frosty air-con environment to feel hot sun and hot air is an experience that suddenly took me back a few years, to when I was delivering training at Nokia in Singapore – though St Petersburg’s air doesn’t have a ‘defining feature’ like the mingled smells of vegetation, incense, and food that I associate with Singapore, or the acrid tang of charcoal that will forever be for me the smell the Wudaokou chuan’r environment in Beijing.
A slightly delayed post, due to Easter!
Spring has finally arrived in St. Petersburg. Yesterday and today had temperatures of 20 degrees celsius, clear blue skies, and bright, bright sunshine. It’s wonderful after the cold and darkness of winter. Patches of green grass are appearing, and the buds are swelling on some of the bushes and the trees. The pastel colours of the city centre, which looked faded and drab in the faint light of winter, now glow intensely in the late afternoon sunlight. It’s light now until just after 10pm, compared to 4pm when I arrived; soon, the sun won’t set and the famous White Nights will be here – that’ll be interesting!
Looking back, it’s been a very busy week, both personally and globally.
Last Sunday I went into central St Petersburg with the aim of going to the Defence of Leningrad Museum. It was the day before the anniversary of the German blockade being lifted, and it seemed like a good time to see the exhibits of life in a modern city under siege conditions.
It turned out that I didn’t need to get to the museum – the exhibits had come to the people! One of the central streets, a couple of blocks away from Nevsky Prospect, had been turned into a siege re-enactment. Tank traps sealed the street off; wooden barn doors were leaned against building walls to protect some windows, while others had sandbags stacked up against them. The barn doors were covered with posters, exhorting the citizens to maintain their defence efforts, as well as with hand-scrawled messages. Trucks, trams, motorcycles, and anti-aircraft guns from the period were parked here and there, monitored by museum staff and volunteers dressed in period Red Army costumes – and who were fighting a losing battle, trying to stop crowds of hyper-excited small children from clambering onto the vehicles!
“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist” – Kenneth Boulding
Nouriel Roubini has an article on Slate: What if the Emerging Markets Aren’t? He points out that the original BRIC markets, as well as other developing economies that have subsequently been linked to the BRIC concept, aren’t growing very much at the moment, and some of them are fundamentally very weak. Well, like every other framework in business theory, the BRIC concept was a useful tool; based on the data available at the time, it identified a group of countries with the potential for great economic development. Of course, that was ten years ago: things change. Did Jim O’Neill ever predict that the BRIC countries would become independent of Western markets, as Roubini suggests? I’m not sure that he did… Certainly, back in 2003, very few people were predicting the financial crisis that knocked those same Western markets for six in 2007/8 (some were; they were ignored). Mildly interesting, though.